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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 29, 2011 12:00pm-1:00pm EDT

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my people all gathered together and i thought, why can't we do this? and i asked the publishers, you know, why do you send authorize to certain places and not others and they said oh, because there are these people who have these book festivals and i kept saying, why not us. and we started this book festival. and the first time we held it, we didn't know what we were doing. i mean, we just asked -- we had some really big names, betty friedan came to our first book festival. and thousands of people showed up. i mean, we really didn't expect so many people to show up but i think there was this need, again, like i'm saying for people to reach other people. that's why you have book clubs. and what i find interesting -- you know, people keep saying people don't read. and they say book sales have gone down. ebook sales have gone up. amazon is one of the biggest purveyors of anything on the net. book clubs have flourished.
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men are starting to form book clubs which was never true. book clubs are as old as the -- the first book clubs were formed by black slaves who secretly got together and to teach each other to read. it's a very old tradition in america to get together and read books and i still think that's it. i really think when you look at this, you're looking at it through the object of the publishing industry which is groping around for its feet like the newspaper industry. they're in trouble but i don't think they are in trouble because people have stopped reading. i don't believe that. ..
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>> i think that's an interesting phenomenon. and like i said, you have a lot of people who are publishing, self-publishing and selling the books in a very nontraditional way. they're not published by traditional publishers, so they don't have the usual route. um, i gave the last festival of reading, they invited me back to give a lecture about self-publishing, and the room was filled. and i don't think that was my popularity, i think it was the popularity of people really are hungry to know, how do you self-publish? what are the pitfalls of doing that? once you self-publish, how do you deliver and distribute the book? that used to be something that was set up by these traditional publishers, and you had to beg
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them to publish you. that's all changed. and you have people, um, the book i self-published which was a collection of my mother's writings, she was 86 when she first wrote a column for the st. petersburg times, and they invited her to write a regular column. she wrote from age 86 to 93 when she died. and i wrote, i mean, i put together a collection of her work, and i published it under amazon. and it sold better than the book i published, my own published book because people really related to the topic. and i sold it in very odd venues. i went to art galleries, i went to a, there's a nearby gulfport they have an art walk, you know, every month, and i sat in front of a used bookstore, and i sold $100 worth of this book because people stopped by, and they were, they were drawn by this story of this woman who had had
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success, creative success late in life. so it's the topic now that draws people, and with the internet you don't have to, you don't have to rely on publishers. if you can figure out ways to -- and i'm not clever enough to do this, but to create a video that touts your book, to get on all the social networking to tell people about your book, people are bipassing the traditional publisher. so in other words, stories are still being told, people are still reading those stories. that is what books are. they're stories, and people are telling other people either fiction or nonfiction. that's still happening, and it's happening, i think, at a greater level than ever. ♪ >> coming up next, booktv presents "after words," an hourlong program where we invite guest hosts to interview authors. this week atlantic council
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president and ceo frederick kempe on his latest book, "berlin: 1961." in it mr. kempe analyzes one of the most significant standoffs of the cold war era, the kennedy administration's attempt to prevent the soviets from building the berlin wall. he discusses this turbulent period and theless ons mate -- lessons with angela stent, the director of georgetown's center for eurasian, russian and east european studies. >> host: i'm angela stent, i'm director of the center for eurasian, russian and european studies at georgetown, and it is my great pleasure to introduce frederick kempe, author of "berlin: 1961." fred kempe is the ceo and president of the atlantic council of united states which is a leading washington think tank.
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for 25 years he had a distinguished career as a journalist. his last position being the editor of the european wall street journal. he is the author of a number of books, among them siberian odyssey and a book about his own family and germany and his own thoughts about a unified germany. so this is, i think, going to be a very interesting discussion. fred, most people when they look back at the 45-year history of the cold war say that the cuban missile crisis when the united states almost came to the -- or did come to the brink of nuclear war with the soviet union was, in fact, the most dangerous moment in that cold war. you think otherwise. why do you describe berlin in 1961 as the most dangerous place on earth? >> guest: partly because nikita khrushchev described it that way, and he was the soviet premier, and i think he probably knew better than anyone else. and it was where people were willing to go to war. i think in cuba the historians think the backing off already was began halfway through that
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crisis week. but when you have tanks faced off against each other in october of 1961 in berlin, the first and last time you had sow yet fighting men in tanks arrayed against each other in that way, you really didn't know how it was going to turn out. so i think it was more important for that reason. also, cuba was not the epicenter of the cold war. berlin was. berlin was the place where, where the two systems, ideological systems were faced off. the second thing is that the wall in berlin, when it was built in august of 1961, really shaped the contours for three decades that came after. and as i argue in the book, i think it's the berlin wall that led to the cuban missile crisis. >> so why did you decide to write this book? why did you choose this particular crisis and this particular city to write about? >> angela, as you mentioned and as you know, i cut my teeth as a journalist covering the cold war the last two decades of the cold war.
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and it was exhilarating, but it was also depressing. i saw the people of poland, shipyards in 1980 and thereafter, fight -- risk everything -- their lives, their jobs, their families for freedom and for independence. depressing in east germany. most of my relatives were germans, and most of them lived in east germany. and they were kind, they were generous, but they also lived lives of limited freedom, limited travel, limited scope. and i asked myself at that time, so this was my personal reason, could one have avoided the berlin wall? could one have ended the cold war that mortgaged the lives of tens of millions of east europeans? could one have ended it earlier? that's a personal side. on the historical side, i think the cold war is the least and the worst reported and the worst recorded of our three world wars. and i do think it was world war iii.
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it ended an empire, the soviet empire, it ended a system, the communist system. and berlin was the epicenter for the war, and 1961 was the most decisive year for the cold war. so i wanted to tell the story of that year through it events and it characters. >> host: well, it's certainly a fascinating story. now, before we get to some of the details, you have four major characters this dominate your book. they were very different characters, all larger than life, and their interaction set the tone both for this crisis and and really for the rest of the war. tell us about the four main characters and how you see their main interactions with each other. >> host: angela, a hollywood casting director could not have given me richer character t. [laughter] you had, first of all, the son of privilege, president john f. kennedy. handsome, brilliant, wanting to be a great historical president like lincoln, franklin and
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roosevelt, but fearful they only became great in times of war. illiterate until his '20s against him, formed through war, survived world war ii, survived stalin's purges but very insecure and resentful of american millionaires. and then the other cocharacters you talked about, the west german leader, 85 years old, conrad. founded west germany, brought germany back from the ashes of world war ii, and then walter oldrich, probably the last-standing stalinist. conrad distrusted kennedy, thought he was not experienced enough, didn't have enough backbone to handle the soviets, and walter distrusted kruschev, and a lot of that story is about
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him leveraging his weakness into forcing kruschev to approve the wall. so it was a great cast of characters. i don't think even fiction could have given me a better cast. >> host: now, you also have some interesting minor characters in the book. they didn't play a world historical role, but they're e sock ty of the -- evocative of the tensions surrounding berlin. and you have some fascinating vignettes there. could you tell us more about these more minor characters? >> my favorite minor character who actually turned out to be something of a major character, and i write more about him than has been recorded, i think, in my book before mine, and that's a soviet spy. he's a military intelligence agent, and he finds himself -- and very colorful character. boisterous, hard-drinking, hard-living, friends with people like ben bradley, so not a very secret spy. [laughter]
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and then he becomes the conduit between kennedy and kruschev. very interesting back channel, john f. kennedy approves with this soviet spy and his brother, bobby kennedy the attorney general, so that's the most interesting of the minor characters. the vignettes i added because i wanted berlin to be as rich as a character as my four protagonists. and you can only do that through the people of berlin. so there i had everyone from the miss universe of that year who was an east german refugee to a farmer who tried to escape and was resisting the collectivization at his farm in east germany, tried to escape to the west and was caught and imprisoned. i tell the story of his resistance against east germany, different stories like that throughout that try to bring home the color of this rich story. >> yes, and they certainly do. now, one of the things that i think leaps out from your book
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is a confirmation of the old adage that all politics is local. we tend to think of kennedy and kruschev as these protagonists on a world stage, but both of them were summit to a lot of -- subject to a lot of domestic pressures, they had different groups of advisers telling them different things, and they were also subject to pressures from their own allies. walter looked down, frankly, on the soviet leader who he considered to be an uncultured peasant. so if you could tell us a little bit about the domestic context before we get to the great drama of that year. and when president kennedy came into office, what were the different sets of advice that he was receiving on how to deal with the soviet union? >> let me start with kruschev, and then we'll go to kennedy. >> okay. >> i think the domestic politics that surrounded kruschev, i think that's where the book really sheds some new light. because domestic politics drives foreign policy.
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look at president obama today, look at others before him. khrushchev had never consolidated his power. he defeated a party coup in 1957, but then there was a crisis in the may 1960 where the soviets shot down a u.s. spy plane. and kruschev's enemies pointed to this and said you're being very naive that you think we can live in peaceful coexistence with the west, we can't. so he was facing stalinist remnants who never forgave him within his own party. secondly, as you said, the east german leader, walter. and curiously, his leverage grew with the amount of refugees that were flowing out of his country. because the greater the danger of east germany imploding, the greater the domestic pressure on kruschev to do something about it. it wasn't just a danger to the soviet bloc, it was a danger to his own political standing. and then the chinese. the chinese were rising, they
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were trying to oppose khrushchev at that time. they thought he wasn't the worthy representative of world communism. so these three things were all against kruschev, and then he was looking at a party congress. that's not democratic, what does he have to worry about? he had seen other soviet leaders lose their jobs at such conferences, so everything for him was pointed at that october party congress and getting through and holding on to the power. >> and i think you point out, i mean, after stalin no soviet leader was really secure in his position. they always had to worry about the people around them, and there was a lot of politics going on in the soviet union, it just wasn't the same way as it was in the united states. but people who think this was a monolithic structure are wrong. tells about president kennedy and the conflicting kind of advice he was getting within the united states and, also, in his dealings with the federal
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republic of west germany? >> yeah. and i'm sorry i raced ahead to kruschev, but i find that story so fascinating. with kennedy, he wanted to be a great president, that's what he knew. >> yeah. >> but he didn't know if he would do that making peace with the soviet union or conflict. so you see him very ambiguous about that at the beginning. he calls dean acheson, secretary of state for truman, out of retirement. and that shows he wants to protect his right flank. acheson was a hawk toward the soviet union, and the people running the desk for berlin, for germany also, by and large, were hawks. have to be tough, have to stand up to them. on the other side were people like arthur schlessinger, tommy thompson who really thought engagement was the only way to go. and you see this tension in kennedy. but the hawkish elements of
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domestic politics both for kruschev and for kennedy were dominant. and the reason for that was kennedy barely won, and he was more hawkish as a campaigner than richard nixon. and kruschev wanted to hold on to power. so even though their personal instincts would have been to get along, the domestic politics was pushing them to more of a confrontation. >> now, you point out at the very beginning president kennedy misinterpreted a speech that kruschev has made. could you tell us something about that, and then again whey do you think that kennedy chose that particular interpretation of the speech? >> yeah. i mean, i think, angela, the most significant finding of this book -- and this is after six years of research looking at documents, really thinking about it -- is that kennedy's first year in office, his inaugural year, was one of the worst foreign policy performances of any mod everybody president in his first -- modern president in his first year.
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>> yeah. >> and it started with this misreading. he comes into office trying to figure out who are the soviets, how am i going to deal with them, and kruschev releases captured u.s. pilots on the day after his inauguration, reduces censorship, prints the entire inaugural -- >> the american inaugural, first time ever. >> yeah. the great, colorful words of president kennedy. kruschev was trying to send a message, look, i really would like to work with you, but we have some problems to solvement i think it was yen win. -- genuine. kennedy was given a cable, a text of a speech kruschev had given, and it was tough rhetoric. the a speech to propagandists. most people who saw that who were experts said, well, this is nothing new. but kennedy saw this as a sign. so between his inaugural and his
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state of the union ten days later, he totally changes his tone toward the soviet union even before he's set down a policy. he turns in a much more hawkish direction. kruschev sees that, he pulls back from his gestures. he can't afford to expose his own flank, so he turns tougher as well. so i think at that point we missed a key opportunity when the two of them might have been able to find a better way forward. >> it really shows the perils of trying to figure out what was happening in the soviet union and interpret these words, and in the end you had to rely on instincts. so i would say the most dramatic part of your gripping book is a discussion of the vienna summit, the first time that this newly-elected, inexperienced, young, handsome american president met with this veteran, wily soviet leader, as they say,
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who came from peasant background. tell us how the talks began, why they continued and why you believe kennedy did so badly in this very first end counter in vienna. >> yeah. first, two word about what got us there. and you're right, it was rich theater in the city of opera and theater. [laughter] 1,500 corps responsibilities -- correspondents, first superpower summit of the television age. you know, "the wall street journal" wrote about it as two boxers coming in the ring. "the new york times" went back to the congress of vienna and reminded us, so the drama was great. [laughter] kruschev refused to come to the summit, even take the invitation letter until after bay of pigs debacle where kennedy failed at the bay bay of pigs. kruschev saw weakness, sow indecisive -- saw
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indecisiveness. and at the same time he had put the first man in space, so he had some momentum. kennedy came there because he wanted to repair his foreign policy after the bay of pigs, so there they are. >> right. >> the first day kennedy gets a an ideological agent about the virtues of communism -- capitalism against communism, and he gets totally, totally overwhelmed by kruschev. his adviser told him not to talk about it. second day, discussion of berlin. he's not prepared for it. he thought he'd reached a pre-summit agreement, and kruschev lays down a threat of war and an ultimatum saying the status of berlin had to be changed, or he was going to change it unilaterally. kennedy was totally unprepared. kennedy knows he's done badly, so at the end it's almost like he's seeking a confessor. so he goes to scotty us are tin
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of "the new york times," and he says worst day of my life, worst performance of my life. he savaged me. and he knew that he had appeared weak to kruschev. and kruschev thought he was weak. so it was, it was a terrible, terrible performance. >> and then what -- how did it go on from there? [laughter] >> well, oh, one other thing about the vienna summit. the other thing i focus on is everyone's written about kennedy's womanizing, kennedy's health issues. i think the vienna summit thing may have played a role. he had particularly great pain, and we know that from his doctor, we know he had an injury earlier from a trip to canada. he was in enormous pain. and on the trip he had someone called dr. feelgood. he was the doctor to celebrities, to tennessee williams, to truman capote. and he was shooting him up with a mixture of enzymes and
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steroids and amphetamines. to keep him alert, to keep him from depression. but if you look at the side effects of these things, the side effects are mood swings, the side effects are nervousness, anxiety. you know, he did show mood swings at the end of the summit, he did show nervousness and anxiety. these are national security consequences. we'll never know how it affected him, but when you think about vienna, the 67-year-old soviet peasant might have been in healthier shape than the 43-year-old handsome american. >> yeah. and i should interject, i mean, nowadays in the united states we expect we have the right to know as much as possible about the health and personal lives of our presidents. as you point out in the book, if people had realized this was going on on, i mean, there was o much completely hidden from the public eye, and yet it has world history consequences, and it really led to a showdown there. >> actually, partly was hidden
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from the public eye and partly reporters and journalists knew some of this but just didn't report it. >> right. there was a different code than even when you were a journalist. okay, so how did this summit end? it was quite a long summit, right? >> it was a long summit. >> yeah. >> kennedy returns to the u.s. and knows he's in trouble. >> yeah. >> and starts, you know, gives a speech, increases defense spending, and there's a great debate in his administration between acheson and, particularly, schlessinger. and then henry kissinger comes in be as well at that point as a young consultant on the anti-acheson side at that point. and there's a real argument about how hard of a line to take, how are we going to respond, how do we overcome this image of weakness? at the same time, while they're trying to decide how to respond to this ultimatum from kruschev, kruschev's moveing things ahead,
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and he's approved after the summit the plan for a border closure. and he puts this on fast forward. so i think as a result of the vienna summit kruschev thinks he can go forward. i think one of the most, the strongest findings of the book, and i feel very strongly about this, kennedy helped write the script for the berlin wall. i'm not sure that's ever been said in if any book quite this strongly. the messages he sent in vienna and afterward to kruschev were if you don't touch west berlin, if you don't touch the axis to west berlin or its freedom, you can do whatever you want in our own testimony, and that's what kruschev did when he put up -- when he approved the border closure and the berlin wall's construction. >> maybe we should go back. i mean, you and i are so steeped on all these issues and maybe just explain again what were the issues at stake in 1961. i mean, you'd had the two german
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states founded in 1949, nobody in the west had recognized the gdr, east germany. it had very little legitimacy, it was completely dependent on the soviet union for its existence. why was there a crisis in east germany in 1961 and maybe just to spell that out a little bit. >> what happened is though the border had been cut off between east and west germany and so there was a no man's land, there were fences and there were towers along that border, there was no border or dividing line inside of berlin. and so here's a city ofbe 3.2 -- of 3.2 million people. you have two ideologies, the dividing line of the cold war, but all it is is a line. there's nothing stopping people going back and forth across the city. so what happens is the better economic conditions turn in west germany, and this was an economic miracle. there were jobs galore.
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the worse the situation got in east germany because people came to take those jobs. and so you had a flood of refugees. but it wasn't just refugees, it was the best and brightest of east germany, the westernmost outpost of the soviet bloc, and the place the 20 million soviets, russians had died to end world war ii. so lots and lots at stake. the more the refugees came out, the greater the danger of implosion of east germany. and so you really had a situation where kruschev had to stop this bleed, or his entire soviet bloc might have been in danger. and let's not forget, 30 years later it was a flood of refugees that started the collapse of the soviet union and the fall of the bear run wall in 1989 finish berlin wall in 989.
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>> in 1938 cruise chef had issued the berlin ultimatum saying that he wanted west berlin to be somehow an independent, free city and then turn over control of et to east germany. and then they started collectivizing agriculture in germany, and people didn't want that, and they were fleeing out. out -- go to the station in east berlin, get on a train and go into west berlin, and phobe could really -- nobody could really do anything. >> 50,000 residents of east berlin worked every day, so they were going back and forth every day. >> and 2,000 a day were fleeing just before the war came up. >> absolutely. >> describe to us the dramatic events of the night of august 12-19th, 1961. and when you do that, maybe say a little bit about -- without getting into too much legal detail -- were the soviets within their rights to do this? because there was this
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complicated four-power allied control. were they really in their rights, or were they really defying the legally-agreed norms for the four-power occupation of both parts of berlin? >> i'll answer that first and then go to the description. >> yeah. >> they were not. and they were not because east german forces had no right to even be in east berlin doing the things that they were doing. >> because it was under four-power allied control, right? britain, france, united states and soviet union. >> so you had one argument which was right of access, and so it was a violation of that. >> uh-huh. >> if the president of the united states had wanted to make it so. and then you had another which was the activities of east german forces and soldiers within east berlin which was also a violation, if president of the united states wanted to make it so. and that's sort of my point is he didn't want to. he actually thought by helping kruschev get out of this problem, he could reduce tension between the u.s. and the soviet
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union and, therefore, have more fruitful negotiations on things he cared about much more, frankly, than the freedom of berlin. >> which were? >> he was afraid of nuclear war. >> and what was happening in southeast asia, right? >> he was also negotiating the situation in loose and cam bode -- laos and cambodia, so he was nervous about all of this. he thought about by fixing berlin, he could make a more pliable kruschev. indeed, he didn't because what happened is kruschev read this as weaknd, and then we had -- weakness and then we had the cuban missile crisis. but getting a little ahead of myself. 3.2 million people, imagine, the idea of putting up a wall and closing off that kind of a city. there were cia agents, military intelligence agents who had picked up noise about this, but they just didn't believe it was feasible, they didn't think he
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could do it, so they didn't take it as seriously as they should have. i went deeply into the documents, and what fascinated me the most in the picture that i draw in the first of my two chapters on this whole question was the methodical blueprints for, you know, con treat pillars, on the -- concrete pillars, tons of barbed wire, one man per every -- >> by the way, where did they get all the equipment from? >> a lot of it they had locally, but the barbed wire they ordered from great britain and also west germany. >> quite a story. >> and nobody asked any questions. so some people say, you know, of the period were saying this reads a lot like the building of concentration camps in its, in its specificity, in its methodical laying out.
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not just the execution. the execution was so fast, it was so complete, it was so perfect that they didn't have any of the backlash that they had feared from their own, from their own citizens. and there was no response from the u.s. or allied military which were, anyway, only 12,000 surrounded by 50,000 troops within striking distance of berlin. >> one of the markets we haven't mentioned is willie bankrupt who later on inaugurated a society of detente. these were his people in west berlin who saw this war going up where literally, as you describe well in your book, streets were divided. in one street you had some people living on one side of the war and one on the other. how did that effect his view of the united states, what was his attitude toward this?
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>> he was, he was livid. and he wrote a letter saying as much to john f. kennedy which upset president kennedy enormously because billy brunt was running for chancellor, and kennedy saw this as, initially, as a stunt for his election campaign. but then saw how outraged west berliners were, how much this endangered the prestige and the credibility of the united states at which time he sent some token troop reinforcements. vice president johnson and general clay, the hero of the berlin air lift to reassure berliners that he would still befend berlin. the fear was that west berliners having seen this would just flood out themselves, would just leave. and east germany would win the city by default. so kennedy had to respond to that. but bill brunt saw -- families
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were separated, lovers were separated, students were separated from their schools, workers from their workplaces. it was a dramatic moment in history. >> people woke up in the morning and suddenly there was this barbed wire, there was the beginnings of war, and then they came with a concrete wall and it was refined. if you could imagine some of the very dramatic and sad stories of people who still tried to get out and how the rules change for the east german border guards about what they were told to do. >> yeah. the story -- you're right, it was, it was very traumatic. but particularly dramatic for a tailor that i write about. and he was a tailor to the stars of west berlin, the people in the theaters and, of course, west berlin is a glittery -- was and still is a glittery place. so he suddenly can't go back, and he's desperate to go back because he has no life in east
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germany. he's going to be put on a construction crew, he's not trusted anywhere in east germany. and at that point people are swimming canals, and some of them were making it. he wasn't a very good swimmer, he had heart problems, but he thought, let me give this a try. unfortunately, he decided to swim the canal on the day the east german border guards were begin shoot to kill orders for dealing with refugees. and the wall didn't go up overnight. that's a misunderstanding. it was barbed wire, it was barriers, it was guards, and for 48 hours they watched for spots. it was only after that that the more permanent barriers started going up, and they got more smith candidated over time. >> now, i want to come back to that in a minute, but you also describe a very dramatic
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incident at checkpoint charlie which you argue was even more dangerous than the night the wall went up. could you discuss that with usesome? when general clay came back -- >>1948 berlin air lift, the soviets impose a blockade of west berlin in their first effort to choke it. general clay, without the approval of president truman, starts an air lift of supplies. it's so popular, t so successful he gets president truman's enthusiastic support. it continues more than 300 days later. stalin backs off, he becomes, general clay becomes a berlin folk hero for having saved the city. kennedy sends him back to buck up the morale after the wall comes up. clay, however, doesn't realize he was really intended to be more of a pr mechanism. and so he actually wants to
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start pushing back and regaining some of the four-power rights that were taken away with the blessing of many of his superiors. the east germans start controlling identity cards at the border which they are technically not allowed to do, and so clay sees through an american diplomat, alan liter in, with a military escort and starts running people through. and he supports them with tanks. over time kruschev decides he can't put up with this, and he brings up soviet tanks. and so it becomes a game of chicken; who's going to blink first? any nervous trigger finger could have started world war iii. hasn't been much investigated. i tried to tell this story in much more detail than it's been told before. and the way it's defused is
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where the soviet tanks stand down first and back off. everyone thinks kennedy has been a hero. but all he's really done is said i'm going to back off from my insistence on these four-power rights, i'm going to withdraw. and kruschev withdraws his tanks fist. kennedy withdraws later, but kennedy retreated on the principle. >> so now we come to the important point. your book really challenges the conventional wisdom that the united states didn't have any option but to accept the building to have berlin wall. in 1956, you know, the eisenhower administration didn't give any assistance to the hungarian freedom fighters who were fighting the soviet troops when they invaded even though they sort of promised to, and basically, in washington the united states had accepted the position of europe even so it
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didn't say so publicly, and the because they viewed this was a way to to stabilize the situation in europe and move on to other things. you, i think, feel very strongly that something differently could have been done. again, challenging the conventional wisdom that had the united states taken a more aggressive attitude towards or tried to prevent the construction of the war, it could have -- the situation could have escalated to, you know, a hot war, to a confrontation, even possibly a nuclear confrontation, and, therefore, it was the better part of prudence not to do anything. tell us why you think something else could have been done and how. as you say, there were 48 hours between when they first started constructing the wall and when they went on to complete it. so what do you think could have been done?
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>> kennedy more or less laid out the guardrails within which he could accept soviet behavior. as long as you don't touch west berlin freedom, as long as you don't touch access. but he took away any be question of whether he would respond to something taking place in east berlin, or something that even violated the four-power rights. so that's number one. number two, kruschev had his october party congress. he could not risk a failure in east berlin. it endangered him, this refugee outflow innerred him. -- endangered him. more dangerous to him would be a crisis that got out of hand where, you know, the u.s. with its far greater military superiority in general, nuclear superiority started a war. so, so he had to have some real
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confidence he wouldn't be facing a failure at his october party congress. i believe if kennedy had kept him guessing, if kennedy had not sent such a clear message and had said i will not tolerate any change in the four-power rights of berlin, i think, i think that kruschev would have had to think twice. now, does that mean east germany would have collapsed. however, there's no doubt that an east german continued implosion would have had impact throughout the soviet world. we've seen two different times, 1948 berlin airlift where the u.s. stood up and the soviets backed down. 1956 in hungary where the u.s. took no action, and the soviets were dominant. but there were no u.s. troops in budapest, it was not the epicenter of the war. so i actually don't think kruschev would have take an risk of the wall and the first 48
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hours he was watching for u.s. response. so it's my view, it's my view that kennedy could have prevented the berlin wall. >> okay. and you do point out in the book and i think people will believe this now that, you know, we did have some advance knowledge this might happen although not quite in the way that it did. let me come back to tonight of the 12th and 13th of august. so when they started putting the barbed wire up, was there something then you think? i mean, of course there were u.s. troops in berlin then. is there something that those troops could have done? i mean, what would have happened if they would have gone out and tried to physically prevent the east germans who, as you say, didn't have a legal right to do this from constructing the war? >> um -- >> or maybe the next morning if they'd started to try and cut it down? >> i don't have the answer to that. >> yeah. >> i'm -- i think the time to have stopped it was the vienna summit. >> okay, yeah. >> and also the bay of pigs where kruschev said, you know,
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in 1956 in hungary, i had a threat, look how i handled it, with an iron fist. and look at the bay of pigs, you're showing indecision. so i think vienna was the time to stop it. however, general clay's of the opinion you still had open passage points for allied personnel because not to do that would have violated the four-power rights. remove the barriers with the shovels op the tanks. -- on the tanks. he felt strongly if they had done that within the first 48 hours, that the soviets would not have gone further. that was his point of view, i don't have my own opinion on that one. >> now we come to a paradox.
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history has judged kennedy much better than kruschev. in general, in this country, in europe, in other parts of the world, president kennedy is still seen in a very positive light as someone who brought new thinking, imagination and a new view of the world. kruschev both in the united states and particularly in russia is viewed as a kind of erratic, somewhat baffoonish, unpredictable with hare-brained schemes. and so what we remember of president kennedy was him standing up in berlin and saying i'm a berliner, and we think of kruschev again banging his view and being unpredictable. why do you think that history has judged these men in a way that you, obviously, believe really isn't very fair? >> by the way, i recount the language discussion about why he said that.
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>> he actually said it right. [laughter] >> yeah. >> but here's where i think -- there's a lot new in the book, but i do think the greatest attention will be on the fact that i condemn president kennedy's first year in office as one of the worst foreign policy performances of any, in a first year of any modern presidency. if you look at his misreading of the kruschev speech gets him off on a bad track, bay of pigs. he could have either not intervened at all, or he could have intervened deice decisively. -- decisively. kruschev talks to his son,er sergei, about it. it's not just me saying this, kennedy says this. >> yeah. >> when he was asked by the detroit news washington bureau chief, he wanted to wry -- write
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a book about kennedy's first year, and kennedy says why would anyone want to read a book about an administration that has nothing but a string of disasters? he does go through a migration. >> yeah. >> he does stand up at the cuban missile crisis a year later. but my argument is he never would have had to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war if he had shown strength and decisiveness over berlin and the bay of pigs. and then, of course, he gets the bug, and he sees the way to handle this is to be stronger. going through the streets of berlin in 1963, he's overwhelmed by the adoration of the berliners. he rewrites his speech on the way to city hall and, of course, announces these famous words.
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[laughter] but he gets there after having made these mistakes. so you still have to condemn him because we're stuck with 30 years of berlin wall. and we almost got a nuclear exchange or at least we had some real dangers regarding cuba, both of which happened because of his acquiescence to the berlin wall. >> now, maybe if you could say a little bit more about the cuban missile crisis and how you related to kruschev's perception of kennedy. in the berlin crisis of 1961 and also why kruschev, of course, in the end did change his policy, he never really did sign this treaty with the gdr that gave it full control over berlin. >> the soviets were always a little bit wistful about west wt germany. they realized that would have been the better set of allies. [laughter] without ever accepting their own
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culpability for why east germany wasn't working -- >> right. >> their reparations, the economic system they imposed, etc., etc. kruschev, um, thought that we had nuclear weapons within reach of the soviet union. rockets were being put in turkey and also weapons elsewhere that the u.s. could reach the soviet union. the soviet union at that point could not reliably reach the united states, so he needed this in cuba. he also thought through -- and he talks about this -- he thought through his experience in berlin that kennedy wouldn't respond. that he'd huff and puff, but he wouldn't do anything. and that everything would be in place by the time kennedy had a chance to respond, and then it would be too late. >> yeah. >> and so, and so he was acting, he thought, in a fashion where
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previous experience would say that, you know, i'm on relatively safe ground trying this at this point? >> yeah. i guess. there are some people who believe that he also put the missiles in cuba because he believed that he would then offer to take -- to remove them if there were some broader solution to the german question which he felt was still not resolved. so i think it's very important to know that even though they did build the wall, they imprisoned the east german population, and so they solved that issue. they didn't solve the broader question of, you know, what was going to happen to germany and the fact that east germany didn't have greater legitimacy. i think even kruschev believed that the west germans would have been better allies. in 1964 when he was under a lot of pressure and when kennedy was already gone, he planned a trip to west germany, and he sent his son-in-law, who you discussed, for preliminary conversations, and he was ant to make a --
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about to make a trip to germany, the first leader since the endover world war ii, and then he was overthrown before he could leave. in fact, a west german engineer was attacked in a mustard gas attack probably by the kgb anyway. so it's very interesting that the end of the story he then, himself, realized that he couldn't solve this problem the way he had tried to with the construction of the wall. but as i say, by that time kennedy was gone. >> yeah. germany was always the prize or the soviets. it was economically stronger, it was at the center of europe, it was prized because of history, and president kennedy -- and the epilogue goes into this in some detail -- president kennedy as the cuban missile crisis unfolds how he thinks this is, ultimately, about berlin. >> yes. >> the sow yets are not --
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soviets are not going to shed life over cuba, but they might just over berlin. so one was very watchful while responding to what would happen in berlin. and you're right, one could ask a lot of questions about history. had we not responded in 1948 and if berlin had disappeared, west berlin disappeared as a free island, would we have ever had german unification as we had it? and europe reuniting as part of the free world? , youi don't know. you know, how things happened over cuba if missiles had been implanted, it if it became dangerous and if kruschev were willing to negotiate berlin for havana, i can't imagine any u.s. president would have gotten away with it, but what a different world. >> before we move to maybe some sources that you used
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for this book? what's new in this book because, obviously, other books have been written on the subject. >> yeah. i used russian, german, u.s. archival material. i found a number of new documents. i also found a number of already declassified documents that just hadn't been looked at and hadn't been used by book authors. there's a particularly wonderful document, secretary of state dean rusk sending a cable to general clay as he's asking him to back down in berlin when the tanks showed up. and he eventually says when we acquiesced to the berlin wall, we were essentially saying that the soviets in east berlin, like elsewhere this their empire, can, quote-unquote, isolate their unwilling us
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preponderates. no president or secretary of state had ever said it quite that bluntly before. so those are the documents. i also have a document where general clay is threatening resignation because kennedy is not backing him up enough. so there are new documents of this sort sprinkled here and there. i also forgot the one thing that ended, i think, ended the tank showdown was a secret negotiation between bobby kennedy. the sad thing about this is all we have is bobby's oral history, and we don't know how the crisis was negotiated, and he apologizes for not having recorded the outcome of -- >> you really believe he didn't take any notes on -- was there a note taker when they met? there must have been somebody because they needed -- maybe they didn't need a translator. he spoke pretty good english. >> it was perfect english. >> yeah, that's true. >> the one thing that hasn't been released is a lot of robert
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kennedy's papers. they're still being held by the family. so there's all sorts of material in those papers that would be fascinating to read not just for my book, but for many books. bobby kennedy himself said he didn't take notes, we won't know until those papers are released. >> you believe that your book does have lessons for us 50 years later. we have, again, a young u.s. president, not very experienced in foreign policy. and you think that there are lessons that can be drawn and analogies from the berlin crisis in 1931 to -- 1961 to the current situation in 2011. tell us about them. >> let me be careful here. first of all, one of my lessons is there are a lot of factors that go into an outcome. that's the reason i interweave these four stories and look at things from all different perspectives, complex. the second finding is american presidents make a big difference
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at historic inflection points. i do think there are parallels, we only really knew what the outcome was with the cuban missile crisis. we have another great year of history in 2011. the mideast upheavals. will obama's actions in libya similar to the bay of pigs didn't want to intervene at first but allowed an intervention to go forward, didn't listen to the people who told him don't intervene at all has also not listen today the people who said intervene with purpose. the question there, and i don't have the answer to this is how will this be read by our rivals, our adversaries and friends? what impact does this have? there are parallels, relatively inexperienced historical inflection points. first african-american
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president, first roman catholic president, huge users of media. for kennedy, television. for obama, social media. but i think the real thing that i take away from this is there are huge global consequences from american decision and, also, from indecision. so obama has associated himself with kennedy mystique, i hope he doesn't associate himself too much with kennedy's performance in 1962. >> okay. in the last couple of minutes, what would you like your readers to take away? what are the main things you would like them to take away from e reading your book? >> in some ways we're lucky because we had the berlin wall, an iconic symbol of what happens when unfree systems are not resisted by -- and so we see
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this. there are consequences for presidential decisions. this one it was 30 years of extended cold war, and president kennedy could not have known it was going to end 30 years later. it could have lasted forever. would we have wanted to go to war? no. but would one want to have taken action that accelerated the millions of people? so i think i want people to reflect and, perhaps, start a new debate over whether kennedy could have avoided the berlin wall. i don't know whether i'm right, but i think the debate is worth it. >> yeah. and as you say, this is one of the most -- less is being written about the cold war in general as has been written about the two other major wars, so there's still a lot more research to be done. so i would highly recommend everyone to read "berlin: 1961; kennedy, kruschev and the most
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dangerous place on earth," and i thank you very much for this conversation. >> thank you, angela. >> that was "after words," booktv's signature program in which authors of the latest nonfiction books are interviewed by joinists, public policymaker, legislators and others familiar with their material. "after words" airs every weekend on booktv at 10 p.m. on saturday, 12 and 9 p.m. on sunday and 12 a.m. on monday. also watch online. go to and click on after words in the booktv series and topics list on the upper right side of the page. >> c-span's local content vehicles partnered with brighthouse networks in tampa/st. petersburg, florida, to check out the local literary scene. here's a short video from that trip. >> we're standing at the site,
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well, the former site of the el dorado gaming club. now, a parking lot. although its sister building is across the street. you can get an idea of what the el dorado used to look like in the 1930s. it was one of the largest gambling clubs in town, and you would go there to play roulette, play some of the local games of chance, and you would also play bolita which was the real big moneymaker for organized crime here in the 1930s. and bolita was, basically, like the florida lottery where i yo had a -- where you had a number of balls, they would throw them into a sack, and people would pick out a number or they would throw them into the audience. and whatever number they grabbed, that was the bolita number of the day. the guy who really ran the el dorado was charlie wahl, and he had a number of lieu tempts. george would collect all the gambling receipt every night from


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